Why I stopped hating on virtual races — and 4 reasons you should run one this year

When the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic hit the United States earlier this year, most of the races that I had signed up for were canceled. Many were converted to virtual races, meaning the planned event wouldn’t happen but registered runners could still choose to run the distance wherever they wanted. Just not with a large group of runners! 

I wanted nothing to do with it. One of the best parts of racing is the atmosphere, I reasoned. A virtual race just sounded like an expensive training run to me. 

But then Rip It Events announced a series of virtual races this spring. I’m in my fourth year on their ambassador team, and I wanted to do what I could to support them, so I registered for these events. (As an ambassador, I get free registration.) 

Then, a 15K that I had been planning to do went virtual. Race organizers announced that all registered runners were automatically entered into the virtual race, and our T-shirts and medals would be mailed to us. Since I was getting a medal regardless, I decided I needed to earn it, and I did! 

After that, I decided maybe virtual races were OK after all. 

If this Dumpster fire of a year has you bummed out and you really miss racing, you should consider signing up for a virtual race! Here are four reasons why.

  1. You pick the day and time that you run! If an in-person race starts at 7 am, you gotta be up at the crack of dawn and ready to race at 7 am. And if the race happens to fall on a day with horrible weather? Too bad! But if you sign up for a virtual race, you generally have a time frame during which you can complete it. So you can look at the weather forecast and choose which day you want to run. And if you’re not a morning person, no problem! Feel free to start the race whenever you want. 
  2. You pick your course! For an in-person race, you are at the mercy of the race directors. If they hold the race on a flat and fast course, cool! If it’s a hilly, difficult course, well, that’s another story. I’ve been running all my virtual races around my neighborhood. I know the area and it’s nice to have the start line right at the end of my driveway. I don’t have to drive anywhere!  
  3. You can use virtual races are an alternative way to test your fitness. Sure, you could look at a virtual race as a training run with a medal. Or you could push yourself and find out exactly what you are capable of. That’s how I have approached my recent 5Ks, which I’ve always felt are my weakest distance anyway. Prior to May’s Cinco De Mayo Virtual 5K, I hadn’t raced the distance since Thanksgiving. So being able to race a 5K, even a virtual one, allowed me to see how fast I could do it! (And I had a great race that day, one of my fastest 5Ks, actually!) 
  4. You can use virtual races as mental strength training. The point of all of these virtual races is to practice social distancing and avoid crowds of people to stop the spread of COVID-19. You’re supposed to race them alone. And that’s not easy! It’s much different when you are racing in person against other people and there are crowds cheering you on. Pushing yourself when you are all by yourself is quite a challenge. But that mental toughness will come in handy when in-person races return and it’s near the end and everything is hurting.   

As for me, I’m racing the Quantico Virtual Duathlon and the I Just Kept Running Half Marathon this summer. The latter is a race my friend Staci saw advertised on Facebook. She wanted to do it for the Forrest Gump medal and convinced me to do the same. I’ve decided to race that virtual half the weekend of Aug. 9, when I have a half marathon on my training plan anyway. 

Then in September, I plan to race the virtual Market Street Mile. I ran the real thing in Frederick, Maryland last September and finished in 6:11. But this past May, I ran a mile in 5:56, my fastest ever and first time breaking six minutes, so I’d love to see if I can do that again! I can run the mile any time between Sept. 1 and Halloween. 

Rip It Events is also holding the Run Dirty Trail Challenge through the end of September. You can choose to run 25, 50, 100 or 150 miles on local trails. They also just announced a real, live, in-person race: The Bear Trail Half Marathon and 10K at Lums Pond State Park in Delaware on Aug. 23, which is super exciting. 

I probably won’t do either of those because I’m not really a trail runner. I’d love to be, but I am too damn clumsy. I almost fell and twisted an ankle numerous times during the Bigfoot Endurance 10-Miler in March (the last in-person race I did before COVID!). But if you are into trail running, you should check out these events.

What virtual races are you excited about running?

Recapping the Bigfoot Endurance 10-Miler + an update on a last-minute marathon

First of all, I’d like to start out by saying that I love the idea of trail running. I love being out in the woods — hiking in places like Shenandoah National Park is one of my favorite leisure activities. I love the peacefulness and solitude. I love the scenery. And I admire the relaxed vibe of trail runners and the fact that trail runs always seemed to be followed by craft beer. I can totally get on board with that. 

Problem is, I’m just not very good at trail running! Or, I should say I’m just a much more comfortable and confident road runner. 

Last weekend, I ran the inaugural Bigfoot Endurance 10 Mile Trail Run with Rip It Events. Bigfoot Endurance’s races raise money for Parkinson’s disease research, and this was Rip It’s first time partnering with them. The race, which also included a 5-mile option, happened to fall on a weekend where I was supposed to run 20 miles one day, 10 the next. So I decided to sign up for the 10-miler, knowing I’d likely be pretty sore from the 20 miler the previous day. 

I actually wasn’t that sore, but man, that race was HARD. It was hilly, though no worse than the Little Patuxent River Run. However, the terrain was pretty uneven, with roots and rocks all over the place. I estimated that I almost fell about a dozen times. And I was running conservatively and trying to watch where I was going! 

The race took place at Rockburn Branch Park in Elkridge, Maryland, about a half hour or so from where I live in Anne Arundel County. Even though it’s been an extremely mild winter, temperatures were in the mid-20s on race morning– surprisingly, much colder than Little Patuxent was! Runners were lined up by their estimated pace, and I lined up with the 8-minute/mile group. (I ran my last 10-mile race at a 7:27/mile pace, but that was on pancake flat roads in Delaware. I had no idea what to expect at this race.)

Runners doing the 5-miler ran one loop of the course, and 10-mile runners did two loops. I could tell not even a mile into the race that it was going to be a challenge because of the technical terrain (and I do not own trail running shoes, so I was wearing my trusty Brooks Ghosts.) It was a really pretty course, and we even crossed a few streams. The sun was shining, and it was a beautiful, if cold, day. But it was also pretty muddy in some parts, and as I mentioned, there were roots everywhere. By the time I finished my first loop, I was pretty spent and wished I could just be done then. However, I am not a quitter and my marathon training plan did tell me to run 10 miles, so of course I continued. 

I heard later from a fellow Rip It ambassador that one runner had fallen and broken her leg, and I feel like that could have so easily been me! This is no reflection on the race — it was perfectly safe and well-organized — but trail running is just riskier.

At least I knew what to expect with the second loop, but I ended up running it about three minutes slower than my first loop. Maybe the 20-miler the previous day caught up to me, I don’t know. My finish time was 1:28:10, my slowest 10-miler ever by about four minutes, but I didn’t really care too much. I was just glad to have finished uninjured! I came in sixth in my age group and ninth overall female, which I was pleased with. 

Oh, and there was beer afterwards from Hysteria Brewing Co. and a taco truck with vegetarian tacos as an option, so of course I was happy about that! I think if I do this race again, I’ll run the 5-miler. I’m just not coordinated and sure-footed enough for longer trail races. Maybe someday I will be! 

Just thinking of that post-race beer

(As a Rip It Events ambassador, I received a free entry to the Bigfoot Endurance 5 & 10 Miler. Contact me for a 15 percent discount off of any 2020 Rip It race!

Signing up for a last-minute marathon

I’m running the B&A Trail Marathon on Sunday, March 15, breaking two big rules I have always followed as a runner. (ETA: This race is on a paved trail, so it’s not really a “trail race” despite the name.)

  1. I don’t run marathons as a way to train for a goal marathon (in this case, the Coastal Delaware Running Festival.)
  2. I don’t run the same marathon twice, unless it’s Boston (I ran B&A two years ago.)

So, why am I doing it? One word: CORONAVIRUS. Unless you are living under a rock, you know about the novel coronavirus/COVID-19, which has spread around the world and has led to cancellations/postponement of events including road races (the Paris Marathon, the Tokyo Marathon, the Rome Marathon…..) I initially wasn’t too worried about Coastal Delaware being canceled; it’s a smallish local race, without a lot of runners traveling from other countries to run it. However, my husband has made me really paranoid and started telling me several weeks ago that I should find a backup marathon in case everything really went to hell and Coastal Delaware was canceled. 

I went back and forth about it and last week, decided to go for it and sign up — and saw on the website that the race was full. Balls. OK, I guess it wasn’t meant to be, I thought. 

But then, two days later, I saw the Annapolis Striders posted on Facebook that there were actually less than 10 spots remaining in the marathon! So with 11 days to go until the race, I registered. 

I figure this could go one of two ways. I know I can run the marathon distance now, but am I ready to run the race I want to run and have been training for? Best case scenario, I have an amazing race, PR the crap out of it and punch my ticket to Boston 2021. Worst case scenario, I have a mediocre-at-best race (as I did in 2018) and then it kind of throws a wrench into my training for Coastal Delaware. (I’m still banking on that race being a go.) It’s a total gamble, and I’m not adequately tapered and I’ve only run one 20-miler (sufficient for a marathon finish, but in my opinion, not sufficient for me to run a marathon PR.) 

But. I am going to go for it. And now I’m pretty excited about it.  So wish me luck!

Over the river and through the woods: The Little Patuxent River Run Half Marathon and 10K

I was in the middle of running the seventh mile of Rip It Events‘ Little Patuxent River Run Half Marathon when I saw a runner just ahead of me lose his footing and slide down the hill.

“Are you OK?” I called out to him, just as I started to slip and fall, too.

That’s racing on a trail for you. Luckily, neither of us were hurt.

Rip It’s second annual Little Patuxent River Run Half Marathon and 10K was held on Super Bowl Sunday– and it was just as cold as it was last year, except this year, we had snow and sleet in the mix! It definitely made the race even more challenging — and trail running is already a challenge! Before last year’s race, I had never raced on a trail before, so I didn’t know what to expect. Well, I learned then that when you run on a trail, you can expect the unexpected, as cliche as that sounds. You never know what roots or leaves or branches can trip you up — literally.

I went into this year’s race hoping I could break the 1:50:00 I got last year, which earned me second place in my age group. Instead, I ran it in 1:53:09, which might have still gotten me second place! To be honest, I’m not sure — I was SO cold during the awards ceremony that I sat in my friend and fellow Rip It ambassador Kree’s car, and she got my medal for me. The medal says third place in my age group, but she insists I got second. Either way, I was happy to place, considering I was a few minutes slower than last year!

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The race was held on the Patuxent Branch Trail near Columbia, Maryland, and the first mile and a half or so are mostly on a flat, dirt path. Once you near mile two, the trail gets technical and you have to start watching where you are running a little more closely. It’s actually really beautiful and scenic with the Patuxent River running alongside the trail, and the woods all around you. There are two significant hills, one at around mile three and another around mile 4.5 or so. Most people speed walked up them, myself included– no shame in that game. Of course, as mentioned before, there were some significant downhills, too– which can be just as, if not more, treacherous!

Once I hit the second mile of the race, it started to snow. I am generally not a snow lover, but this was just light enough to be peaceful and pretty. Unfortunately, that didn’t last and it started to sleet, which was much less fun.

The race course is a loop, so everyone who ran the 10K did the loop once, and the half marathoners ran it twice. (Technically, those who ran the 10K actually ran 6.55 miles, not 6.2.) I have to admit, when I started on my second loop around the course, part of me wished I decided to run the 10K and call it a day. It was cold, I was getting wet and to be honest, I screwed up my pacing from the beginning, running my first mile in 7:40 something. That might have been OK in a road half, but not on a trail, with those big climbs ahead of me. My watch died in the middle of the race, but I know my splits were very positive. Oh well.

In addition to my Rip It team, I ran with a bunch of friends from 5 Peaks Martial Arts Academy, all of whom did the 10K. For some of them, it was their first 10K race ever — and it was on a trail! Pretty awesome!

Next up on the Rip It calendar is the Columbia 10-Miler on April 22. (This race used to be a half marathon.) Interested in running? Contact me for your 10 percent discount code!

A full list of 2018 Rip It events can be found here.

As a Rip It Events ambassador, I ran this race for free. Opinions are entirely my own!